Men taking on more chores, childcare: is household equality down the road

Shannon Proudfoot, Postmedia News Vancouver Sun

June Cleaver is receding in the rear-view mirror but she’s not yet out of sight, and a new study projects that men and women could be shouldering an equal share of household chores and childcare by about 2050.

British researchers have estimated that trends in men’s and women’s unpaid work, which began a major shift 1960s, will take 70 to 80 years to reach equity and we now sit at about the midpoint in the process. But the data also suggest the trends are starting to flatten out, raising questions about whether men and women will ever achieve real equality in the home.

“If you straightforwardly graph changes in the performance of housework and childcare for men and women, over time you see that the lines do converge,” says Oriel Sullivan, a research reader in the department of sociology at the University of Oxford. “In a sense, it’s a dangerous conjecture because one of the points we wanted to make is that there clearly are barriers.”

Sullivan and her co-authors examined time-use data from 16 different countries from the 1960s to present, representing 348,204 days in the lives of people aged 20 to 59….

The researchers also examined gender patterns in different types of household work, finding that women take on the bulk of stereotypically “feminine” routine household tasks such as cleaning, laundry and cooking, while men are more likely to look after shopping, gardening and repair work.

“Childcare is a complete contrast because for both men and women, the time that’s spent in childcare has been increasing quite dramatically, contrary to many media panics about the effect that women moving into employment in large numbers would have on child development and the time children get to spend with their parents,” says Sullivan….

“Gender convergence is slow and incomplete, but I would argue that men are doing more carework and I don’t think this is giving them enough credit,” she says of the new study.

The paper, published in the current issue of the journal Sociology, also tracked trends in men’s and women’s household work in groups of countries with similar workplace, family and childcare policies. The researchers found the steepest decrease in women’s share of domestic work in countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden that offer high-quality public services for child and eldercare and promote parental leave specifically for men…

But trends in the Nordic countries — generally considered world leaders in progressive workplace and family policies — also highlight the long, winding road to gender equality, Doucet says, and both women and men continue to wrestle with public expectations of who should take time away from work to be with the children.

“It’s interesting in Scandinavia; even though for 20 to 30 years they’ve had these very active measures in place to change this idea of the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the caregiver, these patterns are deeply, deeply embedded in terms of ideology, the way people feel about it, the way people are judged on this.”…